The Golem (1915/1920)

Carl Boese, Paul Wegener
Henrik Galeen, Paul Wegener

There were several versions of this, dubbed ‘the first monster movie’, based on the Jewish legends about a clay man created by a magically-inclined rabbi. The 1915 version, purportedly about an antiques dealer who discovers a four centuries old golem and uses it as a personal servant, has been lost, but it was so successful that it generated a comedy about an actor in a golem suit (‘The Golem And The Dancing Girl’ made in 1917) and a prequel, made in 1920, which is the only one of the three films to survive.

Paul Wegener directed and starred in the origin story of how the golem came into the world. He is brought to life by Rabbi Loew to save the Jews of sixteenth century Prague from persecution. However, this noble intent is defiled by the Rabbi’s assistant, who tries to use the golem for his own nefarious ends, causing chaos in the ghetto.

Karl Freund’s camera work and Hans Poelzig’s strange, twisted sets had a lasting impact on the genre. The legend had influenced Mary Shelley during her creation of a monster a century earlier, and a decade or so later, this cinematic golem is a clear influence on Whale’s and Karloff’sdepiction of Frankenstein’s Monster.

Author: Karina

Writer. Historian. Teacher. Story Consultant. Twitter @medkno